Among private renters, the housing crisis is a more pressing concern than Brexit

Houses! But not for you. Image: Getty.

It’s now just 78 days until Halloween, the day when, if the Johnson-Cummings-Number 10 media machine are to be taken at their word, we will leave the European Union “do or die”. With the EU refusing to renegotiate Theresa May’s failed deal, and with no clarity on whether parliament can extend or revoke Article 50, the chances of crashing out on 31 October look more likely by the day.

It’s an outcome that the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress, the Bank of England, and numerous public and private bodies have warned would be a disaster for the British economy. But, according to a new poll, the public have a more pressing concern – namely the country’s lack of affordable housing.

While the difficulties of Brexit have locked Westminster into endless clashes over parliamentary procedure, historical precedent, and all the possible outcomes of the unwritten constitutional minefield that will be navigated come September, 72 per cent of private renters think that the rising cost of housing will impact them personally in the next five years compared with just 51 per cent who think the same for Brexit. For the general public, 57 per cent think the housing crisis will affect them, compared with 56 per cent who think the same for EU withdrawal.


Three quarters of those polled said that Britain had a housing crisis, whilst 55 per cent of the total, and 68 per cent of renters, thought this hadn’t been discussed enough in the past few years. Sp,e 60 per cent of respondents said the political parties didn’t pay a lot of attention to housing.

In 2015, the year the EU referendum was called by David Cameron, only 16,000 genuinely affordable homes were built. The homeless charity Shelter estimates that over 100,000 such homes need to be built every year to solve the housing crisis. Last year, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, warned that a no deal, disorderly Brexit from the EU could see house prices plunge by as much as 35 per cent, a seemingly attractive prospect for people who have been priced out of home ownership by the crisis of affordability, but one that would have serious consequences for homeowners, housebuilders and the wider economy.

Esther McVey, the new minister of state for housing and planning, has signalled a departure from the last government's leftward shift on housing. Theresa May had announced new funding for socially rented homes and the scrapping of the borrowing cap for councils wishing to expand their housing stock. In contrast, McVey, the fourth housing minister since the 2017 election, has spoken of a renewal of the “dream of homeownership”.

Labour promises a dedicated Secretary of State for Housing and a separate housing department tasked with building 1 million social homes over 10 years.

This article previously appeared on our sister site the New Statesman.

 
 
 
 

Community-powered policies should be at the top of Westminster’s to do list

A generic election picture. Image: Getty.

Over the past five decades, political and economic power has become increasingly concentrated in the UK’s capital. Communities feel ignored or alienated by a politics that feels distant and unrepresentative of their daily experiences.

Since the EU referendum result it has become something of a cliché to talk about how to respond to the sense of powerlessness felt by too many people. The foundations of our economy have been shifted by Brexit, technology and deindustrialisation – and these have shone a light on a growing divergence in views and values across geographies and generations. They are both a symptom and cause of the breakdown of the ties that traditionally brought people together.

As the country goes through seismic changes in its outlook, politics and economy, it is clear that a new way of doing politics is needed. Empowering people to take control over the things that affect their daily lives cannot be done from the top down.

Last week, the Co-operative Party launched our policy platform for the General Election – the ideas and priorities we hope to see at the top of the next Parliament’s to do list. We have been the voice for co-operative values and principles in the places where decisions are made and laws are made. As co-operators, we believe that the principles that lie behind successful co‑operatives – democratic control by customers and workers, and a fair share of the wealth we create together – ought to extend to the wider economy and our society. As Labour’s sister party, we campaign for a government that puts these shared values into practice.

Our policy platform has community power at its heart, because the co-operative movement, founded on shop floors and factory production lines, knows that power should flow from the bottom up. Today, this principle holds strong – decisions are best made by the people impacted the most by them, and services work best when the service users have a voice. Our policy platform is clear: this means shifting power from Whitehall to local government, but it also means looking beyond the town hall. Co-operative approaches are about placing power directly in the hands of people and communities.


There are many great examples of Co-operative councillors and local communities taking the lead on this. Co-operative councils like Oldham and Plymouth have pioneered new working relationships with residents, underpinned by a genuine commitment to working with communities rather than merely doing things to them.

Building a fairer future is, by definition, a bottom-up endeavour. Oldham, Plymouth and examples like the Elephant Project in Greater Manchester, where people with experience of disadvantage are involved in decision-making, or buses in Witney run by Co-operative councillors and the local community – are the building blocks of creating a better politics and a fairer economy.

This thread runs through our work over the last few years on community wealth building too – keeping wealth circulating in local economies through growing the local co-operative sector. Worker-owned businesses thriving at the expense of global corporate giants and private outsourcers. Assets owned by communities – from pubs to post offices to rooftop solar panels.

And it runs through our work in Westminster too – with Co-operative MPs and peers calling for parents, not private business, to own and run nurseries; for the stewards of our countryside to be farmers rather than big landowners; and for workers to have a stake in their workplaces and a share of the profit.

Far from being ignored, as suggested in last week’s article on community power, our work has never been more relevant and our co-operative voice is louder than ever.

Anna Birley is policy offer at the Co-operative party.